Struggle In Congress To Re-Up Domestic Violence Act

Both the White House and a number of female senators are pushing for a reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, which is set to expire this year.

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Another political fight is brewing in Congress, this time about a law that was once considered truly bipartisan. The Violence Against Women Act first passed during the Clinton administration and has been steadily re-authorized since.

But NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports that election year politics are making it more difficult this time around.

ANDREA SEABROOK, BYLINE: Let's be clear. Just about everyone says they support the Violence Against Women Act. It funds programs and shelters that help victims of domestic abuse, rape and assault. Here's the problem though - in the Senate, the newest version of the act, which was written by Democrats, adds three things that Republicans don't like.

One, it gives Indian tribal governments new powers to prosecute crimes against women. Two, it increases the ability of undocumented immigrants to report violence against themselves without fear of deportation. And three, for shelters and programs that receive this money, it bans discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

SENATOR CHUCK GRASSLEY: The provision is a solution in search of a problem.

SEABROOK: Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa. He outlined his party's problems with the bill at a hearing. And he said women's groups haven't brought forward any evidence of discrimination in those programs.

GRASSLEY: It is only a political statement that shouldn't be made on a bill that is designed to address actual needs of victims.

SEABROOK: Now, Senator Patrick Leahy, the Democrat who helped write the bill, was incredulous that the GOP would oppose any measure that tries to increase the number of women the act helps.

SENATOR PATRICK LEAHY: Don't pick and choose among victims. They all count. All victims deserve protection.

SEABROOK: There is real political peril here for Republicans, after a particular series of events in the spring. There was legislation to let businesses deny insurance coverage of birth control. There was the panel of all-men talking about it. And there were the now-infamous quotes from Rush Limbaugh debasing a female law student. These and other events led left-leaning political groups to charge Republicans with having a war on women.

(SOUNDBITE OF A POLITICAL AD)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Judging from their comments, the GOP must have a serious problem with women.

SEABROOK: This ad is from MoveOn.org and Republicans say its proof that Democrats are just hurling election year insults at them. But if they block the Violence Against Women Act, even some Republicans acknowledge they risk playing right into the Democrats' narrative.

Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.

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